December 8, 2010 11:44 AM   Subscribe

Leaky rims. What do I need to do to stop my car from gradually settling into the ground?

So the front tires on my car (a 2002 Honda Accord, not that I suppose it matters) both seem to have slow leaks. This has been going on for longer than I'd care to admit – maybe a year or so. I top them off every few days with one of those pumps that plugs into the lighter socket, but if I leave them alone for a couple of weeks they'll go totally flat.

I replaced the tires a couple of months ago (it was time anyway) and was hoping that that would fix it, but the problem persists. Therefore, I am assuming that it must be the wheels. Am I right in thinking that most likely the issue involves the rim, i.e. the tire bead is not seating properly and air is leaking out around the edge?

Now I assume that just buying new rims would fix the problem, but honestly I don't have a lot of money for that which is why I've just been repeatedly topping them off for so long. That's getting pretty old though (especially now that cold weather is here) and I was wondering if anybody knows of a cheaper way to get this problem resolved once and for all, without shelling out on new wheels. Bonus points if it's something I can do myself, though I think that seems doubtful.

If it matters, my car has alloy wheels.

So, am I right in thinking that the problem is in the rim of the wheel? What, exactly, is the actual issue? What is the cheapest way to get it fixed for good, and how much is it likely to cost? And is this likely to be a problem that I caused, and if so how can I prevent it from coming up again later?
posted by Scientist to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It could be the valves themselves, but these should maybe have been changed when you had your tyres changed - do you know if they were?

Alloy wheels often corrode along the bead seating area. You don't need new rims, but you can either have your tyres taken off and the rims cleaned (just with a wire brush is enough) at the tyre shop or get them send off for reconditioning (sand blasting and repaint/lacquer).

Getting the bead seats cleaned is your best bet (and no you can't do this yourself as you need to take the tyres off) but the reconditioning is a better solution and would give the added benefit of nice looking wheels. Doing just two would look kind of stupid, though, which is the slippery slope into doing all 4...
posted by Brockles at 11:54 AM on December 8, 2010

did you replace the valve stems when you got new tires?

I've had some alloys that seemed to need topping up more often than steel rims, but totally flat in 2 weeks, if you literally mean that, is completely beyond the pale.

I'd ask the people where you got the new tires for advice.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:56 AM on December 8, 2010

It looks like places in New Orleans offer wheel reconditioning from $200 a set ($50 per wheel upwards), for reference.
posted by Brockles at 11:57 AM on December 8, 2010

You can narrow down where the leak is by "painting" the bead and valve with soapy water. Bubbles will indicate the source of the leak.
posted by chazlarson at 12:06 PM on December 8, 2010

There were a bunch of defective Chinese valve stems around a while ago. I'd take it back to the tire place and have them take a look.
posted by electroboy at 12:06 PM on December 8, 2010

You can try a can of fix-a-flat for a possible quick and dirty fix.
posted by exogenous at 1:49 PM on December 8, 2010

We had that problem on a '98 rav4.

Here's the repair order statement from our excellent local mechanic in the Boston area: "check LF tire for slow leak. R&R tire. Clean corrosion on rim. Paint and seal. Balance tire and install. Set tire psi to specs." The charge for this for one tire was $25.00. This was eventually needed on all tires, but seems to have resolved the issue.
posted by Kevin S at 1:52 PM on December 8, 2010

I'd try some fix-a-flat first just for the heck of it. It's cheap and it's supposed to kind of coat the inside. I think some serious car people feel like it's bad for your tires but I can't remember why and it doesn't really sound like you'd care. If it doesn't work then I wouldn't keep doing it.

Back when I had a vintage car that sat alot in my driveway I screwed up my rims and tires, too. The guy at the tire place told me that one solution would be to take my original rims and get them powder-coated. This sounds like a similar solution to what Brockles is suggesting above. Basically, the integrity of your rims has been compromised and they may be salvageable. Why not fix-a-flat then go to your local tire place and get some advice?
posted by amanda at 1:53 PM on December 8, 2010

Tire people (both cars and bicycles) hate the 'fix-a-flat' products, especially in car tires because they are tubeless.

The goop gets over everything and makes quite a mess. Just take your car into the tire shop, explain the problem, and get it fixed. They are professionals and should be able to easily fix this w/o much cost.
posted by jpeacock at 2:07 PM on December 8, 2010

Please don't use fix a flat. All the stuff jpeacock said plus the stuff rarely works, is temporary when it does and then you have a bunch of liquid in your tire that ruins the balance. Sometimes it can even make the tire non-repairable due to coating the tire, or getting into the plys. It is strictly a get it to a shop kinda thing and even then I would only suggest it for someone physicallly incapable of changing a tire.

Probably it is either a bad valve stem (easy to fix) or rust around your valve stem or on the bead area of the rim. This is pretty easy to fix once the tire is off the rim. In 5 years of working in a tire shop we saw this problem a lot and only once was it actually rims that were leaking. 9 out of 10 it was a faulty valve stem (and you said you have alloys-maybe you have metal valve stems that are rusty and leaking that way-a tire store wouldn't automatically replace metal valve stems) the 1 out of 10 was rusty rim that sealed with some cleaning.
posted by bartonlong at 4:25 PM on December 8, 2010

Fix-a-flat seems to be a bad idea. If you google it, you'll run into any number of horror stories involving it. Take it to a tire place and I'm sure they can fix them pretty cheaply.
posted by Slinga at 6:38 PM on December 8, 2010

Get yourself a spray bottle with some soapy water. Spray it along the rim and around the valve stem. Watch for bubbles....

If you get bubbles along the rim you will most likely need to have your wheels cleaned - this involves dismounting the tire, cleaning the wheel and remounting the tire. Any decent wheel and tire place can do this for you.

If you get bubbles along the base of the valve stem, you will need a new valve stem. Again, unless you have a tire machine you will need to bring this one to someone who does have one. It's easier as they they can just break the bead by the valve stem, pull it out and pop another one in.

If you get bubbles from the top of the valve stem (where you put in the air) its likely that the place who sold you tires didn't tighten the valve stem cores enough after they inflated the tires. As a general rule - when inflating tires on the tire machine it's easier to remove the valve stem core when filling the tire. The air goes in faster and the tire will seat the bead faster. Any auto parts place will have one of these for a few bucks. It is then a simple job of tightening the valve stem core.
posted by alfanut at 7:59 PM on December 8, 2010

Oh yeah, please don't ever use the fix-a-flat stuff. It's horrible stuff and when you break down a tire that is filled with fix-a-flat it can just ruin your day.
posted by alfanut at 8:01 PM on December 8, 2010

If the rims are aluminum or alloys, I don't know what to tell you. I currently have an Oldsmobile with aluminum alloy rims that look great, but the alloy expands and contracts so much that I really have to keep on top of them in the cold weather.

If the rims are steel, I might have the answer. I used to have this problem on a Chevette with steel rims. Great little car at the time, but I never had cash for new tires so I was always getting junkyard or tire store used ones. I finally tracked the problem down to tiny bumps of rust forming inside the rim right along the bead of the tire. If the tire installer would run a grinder around both inside edges of the rims before installing the tire, I was set - no leaks on that wheel for ages.

However, I found that almost all installers would skip this step even though I explicitly asked for them to do it and they said they would. I ended up going only to tire places where I knew I could watch the installers work through a window so I could jump up and down and freak out if I saw them install the tire without first grinding down the inside of the rim. All you need to do is pass the grinder over the surface of the rim. It's not like you needed to take off a mm of surface or anything. Good luck!
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 12:27 AM on December 9, 2010

+1 on the soapy water suggestion. Found a leaky valve stem that way myself. Get the tire fully inflated and swap the soapy solution around the rim edge and the stem. If the tires came with a warranty then consider taking them back to the point of purchase. Otherwise any tire shop should be able to reconcile the problem.

Both front tires leaking makes me wonder about whether the rims are bent. Like from someone having driven it over a curb. Did you rotate the tires? If the problem stayed with the same location and didn't follow the tires then I'd start to wonder whether someone is deliberately letting the air out.
posted by wkearney99 at 6:52 AM on December 9, 2010

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